Staying Well in the Time of COVID
Author: Ron Hunninghake, MD
“Health is not valued till sickness comes.” – Thomas Fuller
I thought it might be helpful to review some of the basics of health maintenance considering the ongoing growth of the COVID-19 pandemic here at the close of 2020. While these suggestions cannot be construed as specific, research-verified treatments, they certainly stand their ground as adjunctive, common-sense wellness strategies for prevention and early recovery. They are also acceptable strategies for post-COVID-19 syndrome symptoms, should you acquire the infection.
Preventive Lifestyle Choices
There are a plethora of books and articles that validate the importance of lifestyle choices in the ongoing prevention of illness. Healthy lifestyle choices evoke powerful genetic responses within your body that heighten your immune system’s ability to withstand severe environmental threats like the coronavirus.
There is an exciting scientific field called “epigenetics.” It acknowledges that neither you nor I can change our inherited genome. Yet, we retain the power to resolve daily to make better lifestyle choices. Better choices call into action genetic responses that can orchestrate more effective immunologic responses to infectious threats. So, instead of assuming that our personal immune response’s quality and effectiveness are fixed (good or bad!), epigenetic research demonstrates that we can actually improve our immune response to environmental pathogens simply by committing to a concerted program of preventive lifestyle choices.
This is not a wild, unsubstantiated claim. While thousands of studies are scattered throughout the world of published literature, I suggest you read Dr. Lorenzo Cohen’s monumental book, Anticancer Living.1 Dr. Cohen is the director of the Department of Integrative Medicine at MD Anderson in Houston. Of course, COVID-19 is not cancer. However, as an immediate threat to life, COVID-19 demands a powerful immune response if we expect to survive its deadly course after infection.
Dr. Cohen’s work highlights an often-overlooked advantage of a complete lifestyle change for the better: the power of synergy! His “mix of six” lifestyle recommendations, which I will highlight next, are significantly amplified when adopted together. They act as a super-charged “therapeutic team” that is ready to heighten your immune system, your vitality, and your will to survive and thrive in these adverse times.
In this time of pervasive fragmentation of our social connections, it is wise for all of us to continually look for innovative opportunities to “connect” with our immediate family, relatives, co-workers, friends, and neighbors in a low-touch but high-caring way. While social distancing is important, reinforcing emotional closeness in safe venues is crucial for our health and well-being. Zooming, phoning, FaceTiming, shouting across the fence, or even sending old-fashioned snail mail cards and letters are highly advised. Give people “eye-smiles” from behind that mask!
Be ever mindful of your “self-talk.” Weed out the negative. Let go of helplessness. Focus on what you CAN control. Plan your day in a way that allows you to experience “wins” no matter how small. Pay attention to your breathing – short, fast breaths beget anxiety. Instead, breathe deeply from your abdomen.Simple phrases you can think to yourself frequently throughout the day are: “How can I take better care of myself right now?” Or “How can I be of service to others?” Watch where you are allowing your precious attention to go. You have the power to shift your focus at a moment’s notice, but you must TAKE NOTICE!
Research is pouring in, demonstrating the incredible value of a regular bedtime, a consistent bedtime routine, and an adequate amount of sleep. Avoid falling asleep in front of the TV. Limit screen time before going to bed. Blue light disrupts sleep. Keep the bedroom dark and cool. Keep electronics (including your cell phone) away from the head of your bed.
Make sleep a significant priority in your life. If you snore, consider trying mouth tape. Somnefix is a great brand that is comfortable, inexpensive, and readily available on the internet. Don’t forget the power of short, strategic naps.
Exercise is often quoted as being the ultimate “vitamin” if it could be bottled. Any type and any amount of exercise are better than none. Start easy and go slow. Develop a routine. Ask someone to be a walking partner (albeit masked!). Keep a simple record of the time you have devoted to exercise on your calendar. Reward yourself for meeting specific goals. Know that there is no better “antidepressant” than regular, engaging exercise.
Choose whole, colorful, fresh, high-fiber, low-sugar, high-quality, delicious foods. Not everything has to be organic. Check out the “Dirty Dozen” list online (ewg.org/foodnews/dirty-dozen.php) to help steer you away from high pesticide foods.
Try intermittent fasting two days a week by simply skipping one meal on those days. Drink extra water. Use grass-finished meats or less animal protein. Be careful not to fall into unhealthy snacking routines. Use the extra time you are spending at home to learn to cook more for yourself again. Rediscover the wonderful world of your kitchen!
You do not need a sauna to detoxify. Use Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) in a warm soak in the tub a couple of times per week. Read your home cleaning products’ labels. Get rid of chemical-laden cleaners and replace them with safer brands. Look at what is in your cosmetics and personal care products. Clean out old paint cans and other garden products lingering in your garage. Read up on hidden toxins in the home. Since you are spending more time there, keep it clean. Be aware of GMO foods. Read labels.
The Environmental Working Group provides excellent resources about toxins in food, products, and the home. They have several short, digestible, and actionable guides available at: www.ewg.org/consumer-guides
The 7th Lifestyle Choice
Scientific supplementation, like that practiced at Riordan Clinic for the past 45 years, is what I consider to be the 7th lifestyle choice. Unfortunately, it is an often-neglected subject in conventional medical education (more about specific supplements later in this essay). Indeed, the use of well-studied, effective nutrients in the care of complex chronic illness is contraband at most medical schools. This educational and scientific deficit has led to widespread media suppression of the idea of using supplements rationally in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 based illness. I believe this is an immense tragedy that stems from a critical oversight in a profession dominated by pharmacology dogma.
Nutrients are not drugs! Nutrients work as a team, not as individual chemical agents. Individual nutrients demonstrate complex interactions with other nutrients, enzymes, cellular membranes, genes, mitochondria, lysosomes, organs, vascular systems, lymphatics, and on and on. Nutrients are not drugs and should not be studied as isolated chemicals as drugs are.
The medical view of nutrients is overly simplistic: “eat a balanced diet, and you will get what you need.” Take potassium, for example. This nutrient is widely present in whole foods. For various reasons, you can develop low potassium, or what doctors call “hypokalemia.” How is hypokalemia diagnosed? Fatigue, muscle cramps, dehydration, and excessive use of certain diuretics will trigger a doctor to order a potassium blood level. Ironically, this is one of the few instances where doctors use laboratory science to diagnose nutrient deficiency. If the blood level is low, the diagnosis is hypokalemia, a potassium replacement pill is typically prescribed, and the patient gets better.
The flaw in this approach is simple: many nutrient deficiencies can create a similar clinical picture. All too often, due to medical education neglect, these possibilities are not thought of, not tested for, and never resolved. Instead, the hidden deficiencies are treated with symptom-controlling drugs. The untreated deficiencies then trigger a cascade of maladaptive responses in the body. These responses create even more “mysterious symptoms” that result in new medical diagnoses treated with even more powerful and expensive drugs. This is the genesis of the stratospheric rise of complex chronic illness in western culture.
COVID-19 and Complex Chronic Illness
Against this modern backdrop of several worldwide disease epidemics, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, degenerative arthritis, depression, and dementia – enter the coronavirus. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus, COVID-19 is the disease. The critical point here is that the virus is not the disease. The disease varies in severity and lethality depending upon the relative health, or lack of health, in the afflicted patient. In late September of this year, the CDC estimated that 40% of SARS-CoV-2 infections are asymptomatic, and 50% of transmissions occur before symptoms appear. Their concern is that people who do not have any infection symptoms may be unknowingly spreading the virus.
Why are these patients surviving without symptoms while so many others are dying?! A better question: do asymptomatic people have a “low viral load” or a “high reserve of immunity?”
Some have argued that it is merely a question of having an adequate supply of virus-specific antibodies. This view supports the notion that the vaccine will be the ultimate answer to the pandemic. Yet, antibodies represent only half of a competent immune response. The other half is comprised of the innate immune system, otherwise known as cellular immunity. These are your neutrophils, lymphocytes, and a whole cadre of specialized defense cells. These cells, like all cells, require better nutrition and better underlying HEALTH for better cellular functioning.
Better Functioning Immune Cells
Back in April of this year (and revisited in this issue), Health Hunters contained a small article titled: “Immunity Support & Function: Supplement Protocol.” Dr. Lucas Tims suggested five supplements to support our immune cells year round. These recommendations are based upon a comprehensive, well-referenced article published in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine earlier this year. 2
Without question, Vitamin C is perhaps the best-studied molecule on the planet. Many studies show Vitamin C’s effectiveness (especially when used in higher-than-RDA doses) against viral infections in general. Now, emerging research demonstrates that the appropriate use of Vitamin C and other key strategies are reliable adjunctive support in the acute and post-infection care of hard-hit COVID patients. 3
For the last 45 years at Riordan Clinic, we test the baseline serum level of Vitamin C in every patient. Most chronically ill patients run a subnormal or severely deficient level of serum ascorbate on admission to our services.
The Immunity Support Protocol also includes Vitamin D3, Vitamin A, Zinc, and Selenium. In addition to commonly testing low in laboratory evaluations, these nutrients notably rank high in scientific support for enhancing cellular immunity. Indeed, many other nutrients could warrant an honorable mention when it comes to immunity. The single best way to determine which nutrients are most important for your body is to test for deficiencies and then supplement according to your results.
Our Real Health Discovery Profile was designed for this purpose. It is a true investment in your own health destiny, and provides a biologic blueprint to reduce your risk for infection by “staying well in the time of COVID!”
The salient point of this article is that scientific supplementation, while not generally recognized by medical mainstream doctors and researchers, can nevertheless serve as a rational 7th Lifestyle Choice that complements the other six. It helps support healthy cellular immunity and reduces one’s risk of the many complex, chronic illnesses that are associated with poor COVID-19 outcomes.
- Anticancer Living: Transform Your Life and Health with the Mix of Six by Lorenzo Cohen PhD and Alison Jefferies MEd | May 7, 2019